Center for Peace, Democracy and Development

Kashmir on the Brink

Posted in Disarmament, Fragile States, Kashmir, Peacebuilding, South Asia, Terrorism with tags , , , on February 17, 2013 by michaelkeating

 

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Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

The Indian subcontinent remained tense after Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim, was executed by the Indian state on 9 February 2013. Guru was executed in New Delhi’s Tihar jail as his clemency plea had been rejected by the President of India six days earlier. He was convicted by India’s highest court as one of the main culprits behind the attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001, which resulted in the killing of 9 people, mostly the security guards at the entrance of the building. As the Parliament was in session with many law makers inside the building, a successful attack could have crippled India’s legislature.

As Guru  was a Kashmiri, the execution was perceived differently by various actors. Had he belonged to a different constituent unit of the Indian federation, the event woulkd not have received such wide attention. Though there is a constituency in India that opposes the death penalty as an antiquated method of retributive justice, the opposition appears insignificant in the context of the contentious nature of Kashmir. As the news spread of Guru’s execution, there were huge protests in Kashmir valley, with protestors clashing with the security forces, leading to death of five Kashmiris. The coming days may witness intense violence, unless India plays an active role in addressing the concerns of the people.

As Kashmir is perched between India and Pakistan, with both claiming  its territory in totality, the event has a larger fallout. They have fought four wars, and now both wield nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson expressed caution and said he “would not want to go into details of the trial process” as the matter is “being discussed and debated by the media and the human rights organizations.” He, however, reiterated Pakistan’s support, “we reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and express our serious concern on the high-handed measures taken by India in the wake of Afzal Guru’s execution to suppress the aspirations of Kashmiris…” Though Pakistan’s civilian government adopted a cautious approach, the extremist organizations in Pakistan like Jamat-ud-Dawa, one of the affiliates of the extremist organization Lashkar-e-Toiba, organized protests in various Pakistani cities. The head of the Lashkar, also the mastermind behind the Mumbai terror attack of 2008 that killed about 200 people, promised revenge against India’s act.

India attempted to downplay the execution with its home minister issuing a statement to the effect that the law has taken its course. The execution, he argued, was a matter of justice and there is no politics involved in it. According to him, “this (the execution) was not a political decision. It was done as per law.” Some analysts, however, see it as the government’s attempt to buttress its image as a tough actor in countering terrorism. The rightist political parties, however, expressed jubilation at the execution, while the leftist parties termed it an attempt by the government to appease the rightist parties.  India also undertook harsh measures to control protests in the valley by declaring a curfew, banning media and communication technologies, and detaining prominent separatist leaders of Kashmir. India aimed at preventing another 1984 like situation, which had witnessed the spiraling of militancy in the valley, leading to the death of thousands of people and earning Kashmir the sobriquet ‘the most dangerous place of the world.’ In 1984, a Kashmiri Muslim named Maqbool Bhat was executed by New Delhi in the same jail. His execution fuelled pent up frustration of the Kashmiri people and acquired violent shapes with support from across the border.

In the Kashmir valley, the situation continues to remain tense. Any linkage of the execution of Guru with injustice and suppression of Kashmiris by India may generate further violence and jeopardize the peace process. The militant organizations may use the situation to destabilize the region. The separatist leaders in the valley condemned the execution and argued that Guru was not given a fair trial. One of the prominent separatist leaders, Yasin Malik of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, currently on a visit to Pakistan, criticized the execution as a ‘sinister design’ of India, and announced four-day mourning.  The argument of the separatists may have some merit as there are other convicts in Indian jails, who have not been executed yet despite being given their death sentence before Guru. The youth of Kashmir are likely to be mobilized to continue protests unless swift measures for restoring dialogue and trust is undertaken. The youth of Kashmir, born during the heydays of militancy, have witnessed death and destruction with their own eyes. It may not be very difficult on part of extremist leaders to inject in some of the disenchanted youth the spirit of violence and cause havoc in the region. This may be easier than earlier due to spread of communication technology. Some of the separatist leaders also perceive the ongoing protests as a prelude to a ‘color’ revolution in the style of the Arab spring.

The year 2013 so far has not been propitious for peace in South Asia. January witnessed border skirmishes between India and Pakistan with each accusing the other  of violating the ceasefire. The current events will further complicate the already fragile peace process. Recently the Indian prime minister argued that the peace process can not continue unless Pakistan addresses India’s concerns. In Pakistan there also prevails a sense of frustration as, despite a decade of relative peace, Kashmir remains a protracted conflict as both parties are hesitant to give up rigid positions. The radical constituency may get emboldened by the recent developments and revive the old methods of proxy war, extremism and terrorism. Such a development will not be beneficial for India and Pakistan. Perhaps India can take the lead in breaking the logjam in initiating dialogue with Pakistan, while simultaneously addressing the alienation of the people of Kashmir. As advocated by Pakistan’s US ambassador, the US, which enjoys friendly relations with India and Pakistan, can nudge both the countries to foster peace instead of cultivating animosity. Needless to add, peace between India and Pakistan is a major key to peace in Kashmir.


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy.

Kashmir on the Brink….of Peace?

Posted in Disarmament, Fragile States, Human Rights, South Asia with tags , on December 16, 2012 by michaelkeating

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Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

As the season’s first snow falls in Kashmir, the leaders of India and Pakistan deliberate in New Delhi to further build confidence towards transforming conflict in one of most violent regions of South Asia. On December 14 India and Pakistan  signed agreements to liberalize the visa regime to facilitate people- to- people contact and the flow of goods between the two countries. The past decade in Kashmir has witnessed an ‘irreversible’ peace process which has impacted the conflict discourse and reduced the constituency for radicalism in the subcontinent. Though violence remains a challenge — as the  fighting in the Kashmir valley led to death of three militants just before the latest discussions — it has not deterred the parties to the conflict from continuing the peace process.

Since its inception in late 1940s, the Kashmir conflict has caused the loss of at least 50,000  lives, displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, and the crippling of the economy. The two major players, India and Pakistan,  pursued their rigid policies, fought four wars, and built up arms including nuclear arms, while millions of people lived below the poverty line. The costs of the conflicts, coupled with humanitarian costs in terms of the division of families due to drawing and redrawing of borders, loss of livelihood particularly tourism, militancy, and an all pervasive atmosphere of anxiety has made  the lives of the people living on the borders quite miserable. Both India and Pakistan have claimed the entire territory of Kashmir, currently divided between these two countries and China, and have fought wars while the civilians suffered.

In the context of the Kashmir conflict, two interlinked dimensions can be identified: external and internal. In its external dimension it is the conflict waged between two independent states, India and Pakistan, which emerged after the British rule ended in the subcontinent in 1947. In its internal dimension, an armed rebellion started in Indian controlled Kashmir in late 1980s with the rebels fighting for independence from the Indian control. For about a decade from the early 1990′s to the early 2000′s Kashmir witnessed the daily dance of death and destruction, prompting then US President, Bill Clinton to term it ‘the most violent place on the earth.’  During the cold war Kashmir was entangled in the superpower rivalry as reflected in United Nations Security Council debates and voting on Kashmir issues, but most of the violence and destruction has taken place in the decade since the late 1980′s.

The advent of globalization, increasing emphasis on peaceful resolution of conflicts, emphasis on economic diplomacy in place of political diplomacy, and the softening of borders in different parts of the world have reshaped the conflict discourse in Kashmir. The civil society organizations in India, Pakistan and Kashmir  have also played a crucial role in pressuring governments to think beyond state-centric policies. They organized ‘heart-to-heart talks,’ peace movements and sensitized policy makers about peaceful methods of conflict resolution. In 1999, the Indian prime minister boarded a bus from the Indian capital New Delhi to Pakistan’s cultural capital Lahore. In 2003 both countries announced a series of confidence building measures. In 2005 and 2006, two border routes were opened to facilitate people-to- people interaction, and for the reunion of divided families. Since 2008, these two routes were opened for intra-Kashmir trade. Pakistan’s granting of most favored nation status to India in 2011 further enhanced prospects for economic cooperation. The visa agreement signed in New Delhi on 14 December 2012 has many new provisions, such as visa-on-arrival, increase in the number of places-of-visit, extended period of stay, etc. (for details of the agreement see here.)

There have been temporary setbacks to the peace process such as the brief period after the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. However, both  countries resumed dialogue within a span of 18 months. There are detractors of the peace process, particularly extremist organizations who seek a violent and religion-based resolution of the conflict. However, their constituency has shrunk with the passage of years. The recent years have also witnessed peace in various important regions, particularly in the troubled Kashmir valley, famous for its tourist attractions. Tourism is the main source of revenue for Kashmir. It is estimated that the valley lost 27 million tourists from 1989-2002 leading to tourism revenue loss of $3.6 billion. However, the recent years have witnessed the rise in number of tourists. The Economist has pointed out the the number of tourists in the valley has recently passed 1.3 million.

The separatist  All Party Hurriyat Conference (Mirwaiz faction) is commencing its week-long visit to Pakistan on  December 15. This is a positive step — unimaginable during militancy in 1990s –  towards building peace in the region. Its leader emphasized that the main purpose of the visit is to make a ‘process-oriented effort’ towards resolution of the conflict (for details see here.)

Since the civilian government came to power in Islamabad in 2008, the peace process has gathered momentum. The current focus of the two countries is to strengthen the peace constituency by boosting economic cooperation, and promoting people-to-people interaction. The idea of converting the border in Kashmir from a rigid line of control to a flexible line of contact, communication and cooperation has gathered momentum, and India and Pakistan appear to have geared their policy mechanisms to realize this idea.

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy.